Born in China and raised in Pennsylvania, Samantha Elisabeth is a wanderer, freelance writer, and ESL teacher. You can read more about her adventures on her blog There She Goes Again. Here, she writes about her two-year gig teaching English in a small Korean town, and what she went through when it was finally time to leave.
I honestly didn’t think I’d cry leaving Korea. I left Namwon, my home for the last two years, in a bit of a rush for a two-week goodbye tour of the country. I don’t think it really hit me that at the time Korea wasn’t in my foreseeable future.
But then it happened. I was sitting on my plane headed to Los Angeles, and as it pulled away from its gate I could feel the tears start spilling. It was a quiet cry with only minimal sniffling, but I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried. It continued until we were well in the air, and I, exhausted, fell asleep.
There really is nothing like those tumultuous first few years after college. You’re an adult but you don’t feel like one, and the real world feels like a constant pop quiz of things you never knew you needed to study.
I got to spend those unstable years in that little town down in southern Korea.
When I first arrived, I was burnt out. Towards the end, college had become an incredibly draining experience that left me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, unsure of my passions, and about fifty thousand dollars in debt. Everything I thought I’d need at seventeen had completely changed at twenty-one, and all I wanted was at least one year to put myself back together again.
Namwon gave me two years to do just that. My whole first year I told myself I needed to say yes no matter how tired or lazy I felt. Last minute weekend trip to Busan? Yes. Dinner at Fat Cat? Sure! Jazz Festival in Seoul for three days? Why not?
For the first time, I had friends who shared and encouraged my own creative interests, and I didn’t feel quite as alone as I once did. Very quickly I had formed my own community in a town I hadn’t even heard of before my arrival.
However, here’s the thing about forming a community as an expat. It’s always changing. And that gets just as hard as being away from all your friends and family if not harder. I’ve said goodbye to more neighbors, co-teachers, and friends in the last two years than I did when I left for college. It was hard constantly forming these bonds only to wind up saying goodbye.
Deciding to leave Korea at the end of my second contract didn’t come easily. As much as I loved Namwon, it was becoming increasingly obvious that it was time to move on to the next chapter in my life. I could feel myself becoming stagnant while everyone else around me was moving forward. My students were growing up; my expat friends were returning home, and my Korean friends were making their own plans for the future.
As with all of the sweetest times in our lives, this one had reached its end.
I think I cried on the plane because I knew, no matter what happened, my time in Namwon was now a finished chapter in the story of my life. Even if I returned to Korea, I couldn’t pluck my friends from around the world and put them back in their Yewonchon Villa apartments or turn my students back into excitable third graders.
All I could do was take the memories I made, the relationships I formed, and the lessons I learned, and move into my own future whatever and wherever that may be.
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